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Reactions: What should a Princeton education prepare us to do?

Photo of a black and gold seal on the stone floor of Nassau Hall displaying Princeton's unofficial motto: In the nation's service and the service of humanity.

Staff / The Daily Princetonian

The Princeton community is full of idealists, activists, and outspoken thinkers. Yet it often seems like this idealism and enthusiasm for service is not carried forward as Princeton graduates move beyond the Orange Bubble. Recent studies of alumni outcomes have demonstrated an apparent lack of commitment to the values Princeton claims to promote. Only 20 percent of employed graduates of the Classes of 2016–2020 work in social impact fields. A recent analysis of prominent campus activists found that some have graduated into fields that work expressly against the values they fought to promote at Princeton. We asked our columnists, young and idealistic, still within the comforts of campus, how they hope to contribute to the world post-graduation, and what they think a Princeton education should prepare them to do.

Students have a duty to pay the Princeton education forward

By Siyeon Lee, Contributing Columnist

The objective of an institution like Princeton shouldn’t be to preserve the exclusivity of its education, but rather to expand it. Every Princeton graduate should share one universal aim: to use the privilege associated with this degree to make similar opportunities available to a larger group of people.

While this expansion of privilege can be achieved in one’s career, it can also be achieved in our personal lives. We exist in an incredibly educated and intelligent bubble — every aspect of our lives here, whether in classes or in the dining halls, teaches us how to think and build thoughtful communities. As we move into the world post-graduation, it’s up to us to replicate those pockets of unencumbered learning and engagement in our personal lives.

Sharing a responsibility for civic engagement does not necessarily mean pursuing a specific career path dedicated to public service, but creating and expanding a sense of community that we’ve been lucky enough to experience without limitations on Princeton’s campus — through intentional connections with family and friends, through conversations with those who differ from you, through standing with those who are less fortunate, and through advocating for the greater accessibility of a Princeton education.

Siyeon Lee is a first-year intending to major in either Comparative Literature or the School of Public and International Affairs. She can be reached at

We must strike the balance between success and service

By Anna Ferris, Columnist

A Princeton education ought to teach us that service and success are not mutually exclusive, and that there is no one right way to go about achieving both of these goals. The focus on career outcomes in determining what proportion of graduates are actually service-minded is misplaced, because it neglects these endlessly valuable, but non-professional acts of service. We should graduate feeling prepared to address the nation’s — and the world’s — issues creatively and thoughtfully.

My Princeton education, so far, has taught me that a life well-lived is one ruled by careful balance. On campus, this usually means carefully selecting which activities we may devote our time to and which people to surround ourselves with. After college, however, finding balance involves actively budgeting our deeply held values with the concrete demands of the working world. The informal motto encourages us to devote a portion of our time at school to serving humanity — a sentiment we should carry with us even after graduation. This could mean volunteering, pursuing academia, remaining civically engaged, or working “within the system” in an empathetic and compassionate way that affects systemic change. 

In a perfect universe, we would not need to make a choice between completely dedicating ourselves to public service and finding financial stability, but unfortunately that is not the one in which we currently live. “Having it all,” then, requires striking a balance — for all that we take, we must try to give in equal proportion.

Anna Ferris is a sophomore pursuing a concentration in English and a minor in Values and Public Life. She can be reached at

Career counseling should match Princeton’s moral commitments

By Alex Norbrook, Columnist

When students matriculate into Princeton, they commit to Princeton’s informal motto “in the nation’s service and in the service of humanity.” This also commits them to the moral weight of our education: we students have a responsibility to use what we learn here to improve the world. In its hallways and classrooms, Princeton fosters discussion about what forms that responsibility may take. This education should continue into the University’s dedicated career development support, so that students can learn about different ways to lead a moral life in the context of their own careers before they make a decision about what they want to do after Princeton. 

In this vein, the Center for Career Development does offer individual appointments to discuss moral questions about future careers. These appointments, according to the Center, involves a self-assessment that helps students “discover” their “values, interests, skills and strengths.” However, because the assessment focuses on the student’s existing interests and values, it doesn’t necessarily take a broader approach to expose students to alternative knowledge about what a moral career or life might look like. Moreover, while the Center holds countless info sessions and presentations from employers in consulting, finance, or big businesses, it doesn’t provide space for interrogating how these employers may or may not relate to students’ own sense of morality. 

Yet the counseling should match the moral commitment to which Princeton subscribes. There should be more opportunities for students to learn about the different ways in which one can approach morality in their careers. Thus, students can leave prepared to critically examine whether the employers Princeton brings to campus follow their own moral principles.

Alex Norbrook is a sophomore intending to concentrate in History or Politics. He can be reached at

We have a responsibility to use our education for good

By Ashley Olenkiewicz, Associate Opinion Editor

In a capitalist country, it is obviously beneficial to graduate and race to accumulate as much wealth as possible — and the incentives to do this are significant. Without having graduated myself, it’s hard to completely fault Princeton alumni who go this route, especially because the door opens much wider for Ivy League graduates who pursue careers in which you can generate a lot of wealth. However, most Princeton alumni are still free agents with options, and should always have the sense to think constantly about the impact their careers may have on the world: it’s imperative that Princeton alumni feel a greater responsibility to use their education for good, whether that be in the private or public sector.

Princeton alumni, and those from other similarly prestigious universities, have a special opportunity to put their degrees towards bettering society because of the uniquely abundant resources available to them. As Princeton graduates, we enter the workforce with an advantage simply because of the University’s name on our degree and the support system of hugely successful alumni in every career field. While we study as undergraduates, we have access to the most accomplished professors, the brightest students, and the financial resources to pursue every academic or extracurricular opportunity that we’d like. That means we can study what we’re genuinely interested in, spend our summers working abroad, or use our afternoons to volunteer in the nearby city of Trenton.

Pursuing any of these activities will certainly expose a Princeton student to experiences that will not only make them a more well-rounded individual, but also inform their perspectives later in life. At an acceptance rate of 4.4 percent, our University turns away tens of thousands of eager students every year. For the four years that we lucky few experience this campus, we are greeted with immense privilege: our opportunity should obligate us to leverage this in a way that shares the benefits we gain inclusively. 

Ashley Olenkiewicz is a junior in the School of Public and International Affairs and pursuing certificates in both Latin American Studies and Journalism. She can be reached at